I’m sure it’s because of my Western upbringing, but I find something very appealing in the idea that the beings at the center of a belief system can be depicted as being so human. It seems very healthy to me to be able to see Kami this way – for their existence to be treated with wit and irony rather than simply reverence. There seems to be an endless fascination with the lives of the Gods in manga and anime, and that’s just fine with me – it continues to be the canvas on which some of the best series are painted.
Inari, Konkon Koi Iroha is the latest in this line, and so far it’s delivering exactly what I expected, to an almost frightening degree. It’s hard not to compare this show with Gingitsune, coming as it does immediately on that show’s heels. I’ll be thrilled if Inari Konkon ends up being that good and so far I’d be inclined to doubt it will, but it was around the third episode where Gingitsune started to find another gear and began transforming into the near-masterpiece it ended up being. We’re at that point with Inari Konkon now, and there are signs the plot is about to similarly level up. But the difference here is that this show has the spectre of that 10-episode schedule hanging over it. How much is it going to be able to deliver in such a short run?
Make no mistake, this is quite a different series from Gingitsune – quite a bit more openly irreverent, considerably more conventional in narrative style and plot-driven. It also pushes the cuteness factor a bit harder too – perhaps a bit too much for my tastes, as while I liked this episode a lot there were a few times where I felt the blood sugar level begin to creep dangerously high. I like the fact that Inari Konkon (like Gingitsune) seems to be a show about basically nice people trying to get by and find meaning in life – there really aren’t any bad guys here. But Gingitsune really benefited from the addition of Satoru, who added both a bit of an edge and a lot of pathos – and I’m wondering if the emergence of Inari’s brother Touka (who can also see Uka-sama and clearly has a bit of ‘tude about it) might have a similar impact on this series. Looks like we may find out next week.
Inari Konkon also differs in that it has a conventional puppy romance at its center, with the absurdly cute and also kind Inari crushing hard on the absurdly kind and also cute Kouji. Seriously, these two are pretty much cuddly-bears who could hardly be less threatening – but they are likeable, and it seems this courtship is going to form one of the pillars of the story. This time around we get a pretty funny scene of Inari transforming into one of Kouji’s pals when she’s too embarrassed to deliver the handouts he’s missed as herself. Here we see just how sensitive Kouji really is – he skipped school to take care of his mother and he cooks dinner for his little brother – but we also see that his tastes in literature are not atypical for someone in his peer group.
It’s amusing to see Inari’s reactions to all this, but it’s also true that she’s really violating Kouji’s privacy here – it’s a pretty dishonest way to approach a relationship (not to mention potentially causing severe awkwardness between Kouji and his pal). That ties directly into the next development, which sees Inari and Uka-sama whisked off to the Celestial Plains to be called on the carpet by Ameratsu-Oomikami (Isobe Masako). Ameratsu sits at the very top level of the Shinto hierarchy, but this is certainly a different take on her – a frumpy Oba-san who enjoys messing with the heads of her subordinate Kami to alleviate her boredom (she would have looked right at home with a cigarette hanging from her lower lip). This is mostly played for laughs, too, but there’s a slightly serious issue here – Uka-san acted kind of irresponsibly with Inari, and Inari is clearly not equipped to responsibly deal with the power she now possesses. I hope this isn’t totally glossed over in the episodes ahead.
The upshot of Ameratsu’s decree is a test – Inari has to go an entire day without transforming, or else she has to undergo years of training in the Celestial Plains and Uka-sama has to be married off. Ameratsu ups the ante by having her familiars try and trick and/or badger Inari into transforming, which succeeds indirectly when Inari is forced to transform to help Sumizome after the latter gets heatstroke fleeing the familiars with Inari. Certainly Inari can’t be held accountable for that, and Uka-sama too passes the test by trying to accept full responsibility on herself (which she really should anyway). I liked seeing Sumizome fleshed out as something more than a love rival here – she’s actually a nice person, too – but then, this is that sort of show. With Kouji’s confession turning out to be nothing more than a request to manage the basketball team, she’s also off the hook as a love rival – for now, anyway, as it wouldn’t surprise me to see that Kouji actually has feelings for her after all.